While coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly continually defended embattled defensive coordinator Billy Davis despite three seasons in which the team’s defense was one of the worst in the league.
He’s doing the same this year with Jim O’Neil, whose unit not only is at the bottom of the NFL rankings but is at risk of setting league records for points, rushing yards and total yards allowed.
“There’s not one person that’s in charge,” Kelly said Monday when asked to defend O’Neil. “It’s not like Jimmy comes around and says, ‘We’re doing this, this, this and this.’ We’re all involved in it. Every coach we have is involved in it. I’m involved in it. Our D-line coach, our linebacker coach, our secondary coach, Jimmy, our outside linebacker coach, we’re all involved in what goes on on the defensive side of the ball. So I don’t look at it that way that there’s one person.”
Like most of the 49ers’ assistants, O’Neil, 38, is in his first year with the team. He spent the previous two years running the Cleveland Browns’ defense, which finished 21st in yards allowed in 2014 and 25th in 2015. The Browns currently are ranked 31st in that category, one spot ahead of the 49ers, who are giving up 428.0 yards per game.
O’Neil has coached from the sideline this season but spent Sunday’s game in the coaching booth to get a better perspective. It didn’t help. The New Orleans Saints finished with 571 yards, scored 41 points, converted 11 of 17 third downs and held the ball nearly 17 more minutes than the 49ers.
The most telling play came in the second quarter when Saints running back Mark Ingram burst through a gaping hole on the left side of the 49ers’ defensive line and then outran the secondary for a 75-yard score. The play was reminiscent of a 41-yard touchdown run by the Seattle Seahawks’ Christine Michael against the 49ers in Week 3. After that game, the 49ers blamed a blown assignment. No one was specifically named, but inside linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started the first three games, didn’t return to the starting lineup until Week 7.
On Monday, Kelly also pointed to an assignment error when asked about Ingram’s touchdown run. He said the 49ers were blitzing from the right.
“Not everybody slanted to the left,” Kelly said. “We had a guy going in the wrong direction up front. So we had an open gap, and we shouldn’t have open gaps.”
Ingram ran through a gap between defensive lineman Quinton Dial, who appeared to be moving in the wrong direction at the snap, and linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
“Obviously our job as coaches is putting our players in position to make plays,” Kelly said. “And we’re not doing a good enough job at that right now.”
Notes – Kelly said defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who left Sunday’s game during the first series after aggravating his shoulder injury, met with team doctors Monday. The coach did not have an update about Armstead’s availability for Sunday’s game at Arizona.
▪ Wide receiver Torrey Smith dealt with a bad back for the second consecutive week and was “hobbling a little bit,” Kelly said. Smith played 45 of 60 snaps Sunday.
▪ Asked about a report that said Kelly was not looking at college jobs, the 49ers’ coach said, “That’s always been accurate.” Kelly said he hasn’t been interested in college since leaving for the NFL in 2013.